Dozens of Dead Turtles Are Washing Up on This Beach

To blame? Plastics
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 8, 2022 2:56 AM CST
Updated Feb 8, 2022 5:21 AM CST
Dozens of Dead Turtles Are Washing Up on This Beach
An educational information board is displayed at a viewpoint of Khor Kalba Conservation Reserve in the city of Kalba, on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. WARNING: Following pictures include dead turtles.   (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

The hawksbill sea turtle lay belly-up on the metal autopsy table, its shell ashen and stomach taut. A week ago, the adolescent turtle washed up on a beach in Kalba, a city on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates. Once unspoiled, the coast of mangrove trees is now fouled by piles of trash dragged from nearby landfills. Strewn across the shore are plastic bags, packages, bottle caps—and far too often, dead turtles, the AP reports. At first, Fadi Yaghmour, a marine expert who has examined some 200 turtles for the first research on the subject from the Middle East, extracted typical fare from the carcass—squid beaks and oysters. Then, a culprit for the creature's demise became clear: shriveled balloons and plastic foam, some of the last things the turtle ate.

“It’s probably malnourished,” Yaghmour told the AP last week as he worked. Plastic clogs turtles’ intestinal tracts, he said, and can cause them to starve. This turtle is one of 64 retrieved from the shores of Kalba and Khor Fakkan, in the wider emirate of Sharjah, to be analyzed in Yaghmour’s lab. His team of researchers have published a new study in the Marine Pollution Bulletin that seeks to document the damage and danger of the throwaway plastic that has surged in use around the world and in the UAE, along with other marine debris. When discarded, plastic clogs waterways and chokes animals—not just sea turtles but whales, birds, and all sorts of life. A staggering 75% of all dead green turtles and 57% of all loggerhead turtles in Sharjah had eaten marine debris, including plastic bags, bottle caps, rope and fishing nets, the study found.

The only other research from the region, published in 1985, found that none of the studied turtles in the Gulf of Oman had eaten plastic. “When the majority of sea turtles have plastics in their bodies, you know you have a significant problem,” Yaghmour said. “If there’s ever a time to care about turtles, it is now.” A massive amount of debris was found inside the dead turtles in Sharjah—325 shards in one turtle, and 32 pieces of fishing net in another. They can cause deadly blockages, lacerations, and gas to build up in the digestive tracts. The study also found that green sea turtles were most inclined to eat drifting plastic bags and ropes, which resemble their diet of cuttlefish and jellyfish. Loggerheads ate bottle caps and other small pieces of hard plastic mistaken for tasty snails and other marine invertebrates. The youngest sea turtles, not as discriminating, ate the most plastic.

(More turtles stories.)

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